Let’s be real: almost every episode hits close to home for those of us that battle mental illness, but certain moments were almost too much to bear. For some, like me, they may even hold personal significance regarding coping and healing. Without further ado, onward, into the tears!
5. When Dean went into Hell.
Although our society’s made a lot of progress, many of us grew up bombarded with messages that said something like “This isn’t a real illness, and you’re just being too sensitive.” What that translates to for someone like me is, You aren’t sick. You’re just inherently bad or wrong. It isn’t logical, it isn’t rational. It’s a gut-wrenching emotional parasite that constantly tells you you’re just bad, everyone said so. These messages prey on an already vulnerable mindset.
One of the recurring themes in Supernatural involves something similar. Dean and Sam both harbor considerable self-loathing because of the difficult circumstances their life has thrown at them. Dean’s in particular seems to be emphasized throughout the show, and the end result — in which he’s forced to do bad things for good reasons, or because there is no other choice — is a very good man who is convinced that he’s evil.
This was clear even in the early seasons. So when Dean is accepting his fate in Hell, accepting that he’s doomed to an afterlife of pain, he’s expressing something extremely common in those who fight mental illness.
Dean’s acceptance of his fate is too, too real for people who have done the same thing. Good people who have “realized” (read: believed) that there’s no cure for them, and that they are doomed to a life of hell. That they’re inherently wrong. They “realize” that, and with no hope left are facing that fate head-on. Which makes what happens next all the more powerful.
4. When Dean got out of Hell.
When Dean came out of Hell, he wasn’t the only one climbing out of it. I was leaving, too.
For someone who thinks that their flawed mind has doomed them to a life of torture, seeing Dean enter the sunlight again is a spiritual experience. I watched the Season 4 opener on the same day that I left my deep depression for the first time. It had more or less lasted for years and I didn’t know if I’d ever feel okay again. The fact that some measure of goodness was still attainable, despite all the darkness that was still ahead, was nothing less than holy.
It can’t get clearer than that: Dean climbing out of Hell was me climbing out of Hell. He was us climbing out of hell. He’s the proof, the message, that … well, I’ll let our angel friend here take it away.
3. “This is what you’re going to become.”
If there’s anyone who stands as the stone-cold poster boy of the dangers of this pattern, it’s Demon Dean. Deanmon, if you will. He made his first appearance back in the day, in season
Here he’s the manifestation of all that guilt and self-loathing inside Dean’s brain. The perfect depiction of the battle with yourself, really. When Demon Dean tells him, “You’re gonna die! And this? This is what you’re gonna become!” I’m seeing my own … well, they don’t call them “inner demons” for nothing, do they? I don’t want to be redundant here, but that’s why this scene is so gut-wrenching: It’s taking place inside of his own mind.
2. Sam’s demon-blood addiction.
The ties are clear: we find ways to cope, some more dangerous than others. But even those with more benign addictions and coping mechanisms can relate to Sam’s battle with demon blood, both his power and his weakness.
I can say that in my own experience, the worst, most brutal parts of my suffering had these bizarre benefits. I’m not just saying that to sound pithy or cliche or minimize the agony I was in. It was the only thing I could clutch on to, so I wore these things like armor. Much like our boy Sam here.
Being severely depressed resulted in two things: first, extreme emotions, and then no emotions. Having every emotion at once made things like music that much more powerful, which meant I spent every waking moment indulging in it. Having no emotions felt like a superpower, a reprieve, that I completely relished even as it started to damage my health.
1. Sam’s trials in Season 8.
When Dean runs in to tell Sam, “Metatron lied. You finish these trials, you’re dead, Sam,” Sam merely looks around and responds, “So?”
It’s a powerful moment, full of that brotherly angst we’ve come to know so well. Both brothers show their raw pain in this scene to different degrees, but Sam’s confessions are magnetic here. His world’s been ravaged by the trials, and he’s doing it all because, as he said in “The Great Escapist”:
I’m not clean. I mean, I w— I was just a little kid. You think… maybe I knew? I mean, deep down, that— I had… demon blood in me, and about the evil of it, and that I’m— wasn’t pure?
… It doesn’t matter anymore. Because these trials… they’re purifying me.
Watching this, I felt it on a visceral level. This could have been me. This could have been anyone with a mental illness, because, as I mentioned before, the mentally ill tend to internalize their struggles. And quite frankly, popular opinion doesn’t help on this front. We take all of this pain and tell ourselves that it’s our fault, that we’re unclean.
And this rhetoric is so deeply ingrained that we often don’t know how to stop. How am I supposed to stop sabotaging myself?
And he does. Sam lets it go. It’s cathartic.
It’s a beacon of light for someone with depression, or any other debilitating mental illness: when I’m in too deep, when I don’t care whether I die or not anymore, when I’m convinced I’m unclean and intrinsically wrong. How do I stop? Just let it go, brother. Let it go.
And I do.